Towards a Working Definition of Torture

FFG, a regular commenter, has suggested as a working definition of torture:

Anything that causes permanent physical or psychological damage.

It strikes Econo-Girl that that definition is a bit loose. After all, it applies to junior high gym class as well as waterboarding. To be honest, Econo-Girl has stayed away from defining torture because it's gross to think about. And I don't want a discussion here about pulling fingernails.

How about adding: Or leading a subject to believe that serious bodily injury will take place if they don't cooperate.

Of course, that would fall under the category of permanent psychological damage.

Or threatening the physical safety of family members or loved ones.

Same comment as above. Let's hear what you guys think. Econo-Girl seeks to host a dialog.


Fifth Floor Girl said...

Defining it is the core issue. My description was loose. Hopefully, it will provide enough flexibility for people to include their own thoughts on the topic (without being overly graphic)and have a meaningful exchange of ideas.

According to DO regs, a field officer is not permitted to torture or use surrogates who torture. (Of course, keep in mind that there is a pre-9/11 interpretation and a post-9/11 interpretation.) Torture is generally defined as "cruel and inhuman treatment". Of course, "cruel and inhuman" to me is probably different than "cruel and inhuman" to you.

Before I say anything more, I make it clear that I do not approve of torture. It doesn't work. It's immoral and it diminishes us as a country when we resort to that behavior. That's my bias.

I consider any action that is contrary to the normal functioning of the human body to be torture. Contortion, unnatural positions for extended periods of time (standing, sitting or kneeling is acceptable) and denial of sustenance or sleep.

Psychological treatment is a bit more flexible. Do I consider having a female interrogate Muslim detainees torture? Absolutely not. Use of sodium pentathol? No. Is threatening the well-being of family or extended family torture? Probably not. Is a technique designed to break down the core self torture? Yes.

Jason said...

Anything that causes permanent physical or psychological damage.

Anything that causes severe physical or psychological damage. (you can beat someone up, that heals)

Anything that causes extreme unbearable stress. (stress positions can cause no damage, but terrible pain)

Any of the aforementioned techniques, applied to someone that the interrogator believes would cause the target to cooperate.

Anything that poses a believable, imminent threat of aforementioned, to either the target, or to someone that the interrogator believes would cause the target to cooperate.

These are broad categories, far too broad in some cases (almost all interrogations will present some form of psychological stress, as an example).

The Lazy Iguana said...

How about "solicitation of information by using physical pain and/or the fear of death".

That is the best I can do right now. My brain is not yet fully functioning.

Econo-Girl said...

I think the idea of not being able to leave is really important.

Steven said...

Off the top of my head, I'd call torture the deliberate infliction of pain on a captive or prisoner, for the purposes of coercion or personal gratification.

Jason said...

"How about "solicitation of information by using physical pain and/or the fear of death"."

That presupposes that is the purpose of torture. Torture could be applied for no other reason than pure sadism, or to cause terror to make the populace more compliant.